Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Sears A Craftsman On The Mound In Yankees Win


JP Sears on the mound for the Yankees Wednesday night in the first inning. Photo by Jason Schott.

On Wednesday night, the Yankees shut out the Baltimore Orioles, 2-0, to win the series, and run their Major League-best record to 31-13 as they travel to Tampa Bay for a four-game series with the Rays (26-17), who are in second place in the American League East, 4 1/2 games behind the Yankees. 

The Yankees sent JP Sears to the mound for his first Major League start. It was anticipated the 26-year-old left-hander would slide into the rotation for this one after the Yankees' game against the Chicago White Sox was rained out last Friday.

Even though this is his first start in The Bronx, which is very significant, it is not his debut. Sears was with the Yankees earlier this season, and made two relief appearances, on April 13 against Toronto and April 16 at Baltimore, in which he threw one shutout inning in relief in each of them. He earned the win in Baltimore, as the Yankees came back to win that one, 5-2.

Sears, whom the Yankees acquired from Seattle in 2018, is putting up superb numbers this season at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre. In six games (four starts), he has a 1-0 record with an other-worldly 0.83 ERA, as he has allowed just two earned runs (three overall) in 21 2/3 innings, with just 11 hits and two walks, while notching 30 strikeouts, which works out to roughly 1-1/2 per inning.

Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said of Sears in his pregame press conference, "He's been great this year, threw well for us in a short stint, loved what we saw from him in spring training, really good fastball, high-riding fastball up in the zone, strike-thrower, and has really done well since going down in Triple-A, and exciting to get him back and, hopefully, go out there and give us a good start. He's got good stuff and certainly the capability to go out and pitch well."

Sears opened the game with a walk of Cedric Mullins, ironic after seeing he only walked two all year with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He then looked like he got Trey Mancini to hit into double play, but Gleyber Torres couldn’t handle the throw from Isiah Kiner-Falefa at second base, so Mullins was safe, giving Sears an early challenge with two on and nobody out.

Anthony Santander struck out, Austin Hays popped out to shortstop, and Ryan Mountcastle struck out looking to end the inning.

Sears faced another test in the second. Adley Rutschman, Baltimore’s top prospect who was promoted to the majors last weekend, singled after a 10-pitch at-bat. Ramon Urias struck out, but then Roughned Odor walked to give the O’s two on and one out. Once again, Sears got out of it, as Jorge Mateo flew out to left field, and Mullins struck out, giving Sears four K’s early. Not a bad start to have four of the first six outs be via the K.

Sears had an easier time of it in the third, as it took just six pitches to get Mancini to fly out to right field and Santander to pop to short. 

Hays lined one into left field for a single, but Mountcastle ended the week inning wagging a fly ball down the right field line, where Torres was playing on the four-outfielder shift, if you can call it that.

In the fourth, Sears got a pair of foul pop-outs, from Rutschman behind the plate that Higashioka caught, and to Rizzo at first. Odor then laid down a perfect bunt that caught the lip of the grass in front of the plate, but Higashioka threw him out at first by a step.

Meanwhile, Baltimore starter Tyler Wells sailed through the first three innings, allowing inky a single to Miguel Andujar in the second.

The Yankees, in their second time through the order, rallied. Started by an Aaron Judge double to left field. After Rizzo lined one to left for the first out, Torres lined one to center, but it was hit so hard that third base coach Luis Rojas had the stop sign up quickly to have Judge stop there. 

Andujar was up next, and he lined one to center, scoring Judge tonnage it 1-0 Yankees, and the crowd gave the one-time top prospect a big ovation as he is making the most of this opportunity in just his fourth game of the season. 

With Joey Gallo up, Andujar continued to make noise, as he stole second, and Rutschman’s throw went into center field, allowing Torres to come in from third and make it 2-0. Gallo then grounded to first, and Kiner-Falefa bounced one to third to close out the frame.

Sears sailed through the fifth, as he struck out Mateo, then allowed a single to Mullins, and responded by getting Mancini to pop out to first, and Santander to fly out to second.

That was all for the lefty, as he closed his night by retiring the final seven batters he faced.

Sears’ final line read as follows: 5 innings pitched, 3 hits, 0 runs, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts. He threw 84 pitches, 57 of which were strikes.

The remarkable thing is the two walks Sears gave up came in the first inning, and four of the five strikeouts came in the first two frames. In the final two innings, all the outs came in the infield, with four pop-outs, a bunt, and a strikeout.

Boone said of Sears’ outing, “You see how good his fastball is, but I thought his secondary was really competitive, too, both the slider and the changeup. You know,got into trouble a couple of times, sometimes not necessarily by his own doing, and he was able to make pitches. I was a little nervous there because he was so, I think, at 50 pitches through two there, and you're like, oh man, but he kept making pitches, and you see how well the fastball plays, and then he got real pitch-efficient to be able to give us five tonight. You know, he probably wasn't going more than 80-85 pitches, to give us five, you know, shut them down, and especially when he faced a little bit of adversity early, was huge for us."

With all the injuries to the Yankees' bullpen, starting with Chad Green heading to the injured list Saturday, followed by Aroldis Chapman on Tuesday and Jonathan Loasigia on Wednesday, the Yankees highlighted some different arms in high-leverage situations to close this one out.

Rob Marinaccio was first one up out of the Yankees' bullpen, and he threw two solid innings, retiring Baltimore in order in the sixth and seventh, and striking out three.Lucas 

Lucas Luetge came on for the eighth, and he got Mullins to ground out to third, and then after a Mancini walk, struck out Santander before exiting.

Miguel Castro, the tall right-hander who is still finding his way in the Yankees' bullpen, finally had his big moment, and struck out Hays to close out the inning.

Clay Holmes, the new Yankees closer with Chapman out (he's so good he might have been given the role anyway), came on for the ninth, and worked around a Rutschman single and a dunk into the Bermuda Triangle center field by Rougned Odor, which was caused by center fielder Aaron Hicks taking too long to come in on it, and closed it out with a strikeout of Mateo. It was the big right-hander's fifth save of the season. 

Boone was asked what it's like to deploy Holmes late in these games, and he said, "He's pretty good," while chuckling before continuing, "and even tonight, you know, Rutschman gets that hit, and then that blooper, but you still feel pretty good that he's gonna keep making pitches, and, you know, get Mateo to get us out of it, but, yeah, he's pretty special."

Clay Holmes pitching to Roughned Odor in the ninth. Photo by Jason Schott.

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